The evolution of the Turkish defence industry in the recent decades is a success story. Türkiye has shifted from importing many of her defence technologies to becoming one the world’s most prominent exporters in the defence and aerospace industry. With a large number of products in her defence industry portfolio and the significant importance given to R&D and technological advancement, Türkiye has emerged competent and trusted global player, with over 2000 enterprises, SMEs, research institutes, and universities contributing domestically.
Initiatives to establish a defence industry in Türkiye date back to the Ottoman Empire, and significant achievements continued after the proclamation of the Republic in 1923, such as establishing an aviation industry in 1926 to create a solid basis for the defence industry.
Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Türkiye is in fact surrounded by many wars, armed conflicts and instabilities, necessitating strong security forces backed by an advanced defence sector to maintain regional peace and security. As the second largest army of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and one of the biggest defence spenders in the world, Türkiye has developed the capabilities to defend herself while sharing this experience and capacity accumulated over the years with her partners and friends around the world.
Over the years, Türkiye’s effort towards ensuring her national security as well as the regional peace while fully abiding by the international law have resulted in unfair treatment by certain countries that are the main exporters of defence industry products to Türkiye. Although achieving an independent and self-sufficient defence industry has always been a national strategy, the arms embargo imposed by these countries provided an accelerator to push for further efforts to meet the needs of the security units with domestic resources. One of the major turning points in this respect was the arms embargo imposed on Türkiye after her peace operation in Cyprus in 1974 to stop the suffering of the Turkish Cypriots. In the recent years, Türkiye’s peace operations in the northern parts of Syria and Iraq aimed to combat terrorist organisations threatening her national security, in line with the right to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter and her activities for ensuring the integrity of her territorial waters have met arms embargo imposed by her own allies. This has showed the importance of developing national systems strengthened by her own national resources and technology.
As a result of the efforts toward ensuring the independence of the defence industry over the last decades, the foreign military imports of Türkiye was decreased from 80% in 2004 to around 20% in 2022 while arms exports increased by 69% from 2018 to 2022 compared to 2013-2017. As the defence industry exports increased by 36% in 2022 compared to the previous year and achieved 4,4 billion USD, the revenue from defence and aerospace sectors increased by 20% in 2022 compared to 2021, reaching 12,2 billion USD. Türkiye’s military export target for 2023 has been set as 6 billion USD. In 2019, five Turkish defence companies have been included among the “Top 100 Global Defence Companies” while there were none back in 2002.
Türkiye’s defence industry boasts an extensive portfolio, including advanced technologies and a variety of military equipment and systems, from the state-of-the-art AKINCI Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) to ANKA and Bayraktar TB2 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, among others such as Göktürk satellite system, Altay tanks, ATAK and GÖKBEY helicopters, Hürkuş training aircrafts, Fırtına Obus, patrol boats, national infantry rifles, tactical armoured vehicles and defence systems. Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) has announced many targets for 2023 from aviation and space to land vehicles and missiles, including projects on a national combat aircraft and Türkiye’s first unmanned fighter jet Bayraktar Kızılelma. The project regarding the avionics modernization of current F-16 fighter jets in Türkiye’s inventory is called “özgür”, meaning “free”.
The strong and robust national defence industry not only contributes to the growth of the national economy but also constitute as one of the prominent pillars of the Turkish foreign policy. The development of the Turkish defence industry with high quality and efficient products has contributed greatly to Türkiye’s international standing and to strengthening bilateral relations in security and defence domains with many countries and partners around the world. Given the increasing importance of Asia in the global affairs, Türkiye’s “Asia Anew” initiative launched in 2019, aims to further accelerate bilateral cooperation with Asian partners in areas included but not limited to defence and security. The Turkish defence industry companies have established fruitful relations with many Asian countries to strengthen their military and defence capabilities. In this respect, there are many opportunities to build on the excellent bilateral relations between Türkiye and Sri Lanka to extend this cooperation towards security and defence sector as well. As the Republic embraces her second century, Türkiye stands ready to cooperate with Sri Lanka based on equal partnership and mutual interests.